Yesterday (1/29/19), on ABC’s show The View, they did a segment on the Washington Post piece, including video, on B. Smith, an icon of fashion, restaurants, and lifestyle guru, who now has Alzheimer’s. Full disclosure, I had never heard of B. Smith prior to this segment on The View, and had not yet seen the Post video. However, even before seeing the Post video, I began forming an opinion based on the co-hosts’ discussion of the video. And that general opinion is – It Depends.
If you haven’t seen the video or The View segment, watch them now. Links are embedded above. As you’ll see, Smith’s Alzheimer’s appears to be around Stage 5 or 6, moderately severe to severe decline. Since there was an episode as early as 2014 in which she wandered off and was missing for a hours, 50 miles from home, I’d say, with no medical training or professional expertise, that she is likely in Stage 6, of 7 stages.
The controversy is two-fold. First, her husband, Dan Gasby, of 26 years, who cares for her, has also revealed that he has a girlfriend, and that girlfriend often stays at the home he and Smith share. In fact, the girlfriend often helps care for Smith. The second controversy is that Dan allowed the video of Smith to be shown publicly in the first place, showing Smith’s decline.
I found each of The View co-hosts’ opinions compelling and valid, but, nonetheless, based on incomplete information.
Whoopie @WhoopiGoldberg didn’t like seeing Smith that way. I can understand that. When you know someone for what and who they once were, seeing them in such decline can be devastating.
Sunny Hostin @sunny could see two sides, one that caregiving is difficult, but two, that Gasby is being disrespectful by having a girlfriend while his wife is still alive, regardless of her condition.
Joy Behar @JoyVBehar was of the mind that, if it happened to her, she’d be happy to have more people in the house.
Abby Huntsman @HuntsmanAbby would want her husband to be happy. But she quipped she’d also burn his house down, a comment I found transparent and humorous. She also cautioned about trying to walk in another person’s shoes. Very wise.
Meghan McCain @MeghanMcCain remembered her dad, and how her family was adamant that pictures of him gravely ill not be made public because he had been such an icon, and Smith was, as well. She also made the point that she is curious if Smith had asked for her decline to be made public.
That’s where the – It Depends – comes in. Meghan’s question about what did Smith want. And that is the information I don’t know. Did Smith and Gasby discuss any of this while Smith was still cognizant enough to understand the implications, and did she give consent while she still was competent enough to do so?
I’ve seen more than just the opinions on The View. The Post is littered with negative comments, mostly decrying the disrespect, that Gasby is taking advantage of Smith, a slew of “till death do us part”, and more comments by people who don’t appear to know the inside story, only a 5 minute video.
So, if Smith had given informed consent while she could, then no one has a right to judge. Period. End of discussion.
But what if Smith hadn’t? That’s the sticky wicket. Did Mom give me consent to write this blog? No. Her diagnosis occurred before we could have a conversation. Do I feel as though I am betraying her somehow? No. I feel I am keeping her alive and present, and I’m also trying to help others who may be facing the same experience. And in turn, those others are helping me. This blog has introduced me a worldwide community of caregivers who GET IT. Who know that it is not fairy tales, pixie dust, and unicorns. It’s hard. It’s really freaking hard. And Mom is no where near as advanced as Smith. And she’s my mom, not my spouse. One is not easier than the other, but they are different.
If Smith had explicitly not given informed consent, had told Gasby she didn’t want her decline made public, and that she wanted him to stay faithful, then what Gasby is doing is wrong. It is a betrayal of her last wishes. And if things got tougher than he had imagined, and if he figured Smith won’t know the difference anyway, my response is, “Suck it up.”
But maybe they never really discussed it when they could. That wouldn’t be all that unusual. It’s a hard conversation to have. Or maybe, her condition was so advanced once she was diagnosed, that there really was no time. In this case, I would give Gasby the benefit of the doubt that he knew his own wife, likely better than anyone else.
In the end, none of us know all the details. None of us know the specifics. Dementia sucks. It sucks for those who have it. It sucks for those who love them. It sucks for those who take care of them. And it’s complicated. It depends.